Trends in Alternative Places of Service

April 27, 2023

People used telehealth less but used retail clinics more in 2021, compared to 2020. These and other trends in places people go to get healthcare are covered in a new FAIR Health study. Most people go to doctor’s offices and hospitals to get care. The white paper studies the less traditional places people go, like retail clinics and urgent care centers. It also studies ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) and telehealth, as well as emergency rooms (ERs). ERs are traditional but are studied as a point of comparison. A study like this has been released every year since 2018. This study is the sixth one of its kind. It finds changes in the way people used these places of care from 2020 to 2021.

Retail Clinics
Retail clinics are often based inside drugstores. They can also be inside big-box stores or supermarkets. People go to them for minor illnesses, such as coughs, colds and skin rashes. They can also get shots and basic lab tests done. The FAIR Health study shows use of retail clinics rose by 51 percent from 2020 to 2021. Rhode Island, Maine, Arkansas, Connecticut and Georgia had the highest use of retail clinics in 2021. Exposure to communicable diseases (illnesses that can spread to others) was the most common health issue seen at retail clinics in 2021.

Urgent Care Centers
Urgent care centers can treat illnesses or injuries that aren’t life-threatening, but still can’t wait. These can be cuts and minor burns, coughs and colds, earache and the like. Urgent care sites can often take X-rays and do blood tests too. The study shows use of this place of care went up by 14 percent from 2020 to 2021. New Mexico, Hawaii, New York, Georgia and Maryland had the highest use in 2021. Acute respiratory illnesses, like coughs and colds, were the number one health issue treated by urgent care staff in 2021.

Telehealth is the use of devices, like phones and computers, to get care from your healthcare provider. The study shows telehealth use fell by 76 percent from 2020 to 2021. But from 2016 to 2021, telehealth grew by over 5,000 percent, largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The drop in use in 2021 may be because COVID-19 cases fell, and some people went back to in-person healthcare. Massachusetts; Washington, DC; Vermont; Oregon; and Connecticut were the top places using telehealth in 2021. Mental health was the top health issue treated by telehealth in 2021.

ASCs give same-day surgical care. ASC doctors carry out surgery on people’s eyes, backs, arms, legs and more. The use of ASCs went down by seven percent from 2020 to 2021. Few people were having surgery at the start of the pandemic in 2020. But the drop in 2021 might be due to other issues like not enough staff.

ERs handle life-threatening health crises, like heart attacks, head wounds, very bad pain or bleeding, and more. The use of ERs went down by 15 percent from 2020 to 2021. Chest pain was the most common issue for people over age 22 going to the ER in 2021.

People Who Get Care
The study finds women used all the alternative places to get care, plus ERs, more than men did. But the gap between men and women was less in 2021 than before. For example, in 2019, women made up almost 70 percent of all people aged 19-30 getting their care from retail clinics. In 2021, the share of women aged 19-30 fell to 60-63 percent.